The school’s courtyard was still covered with a few inches of icy snow last Friday morning, but the students of M.S. 139 in Washington Heights didn’t seem to mind at all. As the school buses came and went along the sidewalks of Edgemcombe Avenue, the students in the courtyard tossed their backpacks into the snow, chased one another and launched earnest snowball fights until the morning bell rang.
Mayor Bill de Blasio decided to keep schools open last week, despite the snowstorm and the cold temperatures. But not everyone was as happy about the weather conditions as the students in M.S. 139’s playground. Some parents raised eyebrows over Mayor de Blasio’s decision and voiced concerns about having to face frigid winds and icy streets to get their kids to school.
“We don’t express opinion on choices we didn’t make,” said Cindy Lee, director of operations at KIPP Washington Heights Middle School, a charter school that shares the facilities with M.S. 139, referring to Mayor de Blasio’s decision.
But some parents, like Dollicia Baugh, a housewife of 28, said she was “surprised” that the mayor didn’t close the schools in such a cold weather. Baugh learned from the TV news that schools were kept open on the day of the storm. The next day, she kept her son home. “I called the school-bus and I canceled the pick up. It was too cold and there was too much snow. They didn’t shovel the street at all,” she said.
Forty-one percent of the students didn’t show up at KIPP school on Tuesday, Lee said, a lower percentage that in most city schools. According to the Department of Education, 60 percent of students, on average, attended school on Tuesday. “It will be considered as a regular absence,” Lee further explained.
But even those who did show up did not have a particularly arduous day. As they walked to an afterschool program on Friday afternoon, two 14-year-old teenagers, Tamara Alegre and Emily Gomez, reported that they had spent most of the day in the school gym since classes were too small for regular activities.
“It was cold as brick,” said Tamara. But “I went to school and I learned something new and my mom went to work and she made money.”
A third 14-year-old, Nayely Gomez, who walked with the girls along the slippery, salt-covered streets to CHALK, a health program called Choosing Healthy & Active Lifestyles for Kids, said she ended up staying home with her parents. “It was too, too cold to go out,” she said. However, she said she hoped that temperatures won’t drop again in the coming weeks because she doesn’t want to miss another day of school.
On Friday morning, Teresa Ramoz, waved goodbye to her 12-year-old son Brian as he entered M.S. 328 on Edgecombe Avenue. They live in the neighborhood on 157th Street and usually walk to school. Not on Tuesday, she kept him home.
“It was freeeeezing!” she cried with her eyes wide open. “I didn’t let him go out, and I didn’t go out either,” she said laughing.
Moreover, she argued with her older son, Gabriel, 18, who despite the cold temperature, didn’t want to miss class. “He likes to go to school, but I said, ‘No, not today. You stay home!’” she said. He ended up complaining all day about how bored he was, she said.
As for Ramoz, she was grateful to have an extra day to coddle her children inside where they were safe and warm. “I made them a big breakfast, with baked goods, bread, and eggs,” she said with a smile. “They were happy.”